Friday, February 22

Flashback Four : The Pompeii Disaster

August 24, 79 AD

Seventeen years after being rocked by a major earthquake, the city of Pompeii had recovered and was a bustling metropolis.  The local historian, Seneca, wrote that quakes lasted for several days in early August of the year 79, but people were so accustomed to them that they were ignored.

Early escapees of the city were able to flee to nearby Misenum (about 13 miles away).  One of these was Pliny the Younger, who wrote that he observed, "the sea retreating as if pushed by the earthquakes" and "black and horrible clouds, broken by sinuous shapes of flaming wind."  He was seeing the wind - which ultimately doomed the people of Pompeii - and a tsunami that resulted from the earthquake.

Vesuvius' first explosion took everyone by surprise, and only 2,000 residents survived that first blast.  In only 25 hours, over 30,000 people died from the eruption!

The volcanic mud overtook the town so quickly, most victims died instantly -- the superheated air burned their lungs, and they were left curled up in ash and preserved for eons.  Because of the speed, the city of Pompeii became a snapshot of daily life in ancient Rome, and is a treasure trove for archaeologists.  

  • The Pompeii Disaster
    • Eccentric billionaire Miss Z is sending Luke, Julia, David, and Isabel on another mission back in time to capture one of history’s most important events.  This time, the Flashback Four are headed to AD 79 to photograph the eruption of Mount Vesuvius! Can the Flashback Four get their photo and get back home before they become ancient history?  With real photographs from Pompeii to help put young readers right in the action, plus back matter that separates fact from fiction, The Pompeii Disaster tells the story of one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters like you’ve never seen it before.
Make / Do
Related imageVocabulary
  • tremors
  • strutting
  • quivered
  • frantically
  • anxious
  • horrified
  • muffled
  • gasping
  • barren
  • remains
  • What can we learn about life in Roman times from the ruins of Pompeii? 
  • Gold coins were usually hidden in a safe place. Why do you think some of Pompeii’s victims were carrying gold coins?

Wednesday, February 20

Sean Livingstone series + Printable Activity Pack

Part Indiana Jones, part every other Hollywood blockbuster from the past twenty years....the Sean Livingstone series features a band of teens who fight an alien race to save the world!

Crown of the Pharaohs (Book One)
Fifteen-year-old Sean Livingstone is on the adventure of a lifetime, visiting his dad, an archaeologist who has just discovered an ancient alien device beneath the Sphinx – a find that reveals a forgotten chapter in human history, placing everything we know about life on Earth into question. But they’re not the first to uncover the truth. A reclusive billionaire and his assassins will stop at nothing to keep the revelation a secret from the rest of the world. Running for his life, Sean is catapulted out of time and place – into a world where humans live on the brink of extinction, dominated by aliens and their monstrous hybrid creations. With the past, present, and future hanging in the balance, only Sean can unlock the power of the pharaohs crown and save humanity.

Ark of the Gods (Book Two)
After 10,000 years, the alien race known as the Isharkute have returned to Earth, intent on enslaving humanity. Only one thing can stop them: the legendary Ark of the Covenant – an alien device of incredible power. Three cryptic riddles to the Ark have been hidden across the world, clues only Sean and his alien friend Nocao can decipher. With unexpected new companions, sixteen-year-old Bella and her older brother Arturo along for the ride, their quest takes them to far-off locations while unravelling some of the greatest mysteries of all time. But Senetep is close behind. His Isharkute invasion has brought death, destruction and a terrifying new army of hybrids. With governments and civilisations in ruins, it’s a race against time to find the Ark before Senetep. Can Sean unite humanity and save the world?

General Notes...

  • Part of the fun of these stories is picking out all of the references....such as the Babel Fish from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!
  • Aliens, mythology, magic....if your family avoids such things, these are not the books for you.
  • There are some violent deaths, particularly as Senetep (evil dude) steps in.  They're comparable to primetime TV, but forewarned is forearmed.
  • The third book in the trilogy, 'The Spearhead of Creation,' will tie everything together.
Regarding Hi-Lo Students...
  • At the beginning of book one, there are two characters - Sean & Seth - on opposite sides.  Because their names are so similar, it would be easy for some to get them confused, which could delay their ability to 'form' a character in their mind.
  • The beginning of book one starts out slow, but once the action picks up, it's fast-paced from there on out.
  • As the author is Australian, there is the occasional instance of a British spelling.
Space, Aliens, and Mythological Creatures


Make / Do










  • What role did astronomy play in ancient civilizations?
  • Where do you think the idea for ancient mythological creatures originated? 
  • What do you think archaeologists will find from our society 2,000 years from now, and what will their findings say about us? 
  • What objects might lead to the misinterpretation of our culture by future archaeologists? 

Questions for the Author.....
What inspired you to write the Sean Livingstone series?
  • I was inspired by history and the fact that there’s still so many unanswered questions about our past. There seems to be striking similarities between different cultures in their religions and mythology, even when they’re from opposite sides of the world. Was there an ancient, advanced civilisation that existed long before us? There’s certainly evidence of ancient megalithic construction all over the world, things we can’t even replicate today. The Great Pyramid at Giza is the perfect example. I’d been thinking about these things all my life, and when it came to writing the Sean Livingstone books, I just let my imagination go wild. I tried to work in many of the unanswered questions about our past in a fun and entertaining way. Even though a big portion of Sean Livingstone’s adventure is pure science-fiction and fantasy, the story is built upon a foundation of real historical events and well-known legends. Ultimately, I’d love the Sean Livingstone series to spark the reader’s interest in history and for them to investigate and discover other incredible facts about our past for themselves.

Tell us about yourself -- 
  • I’m a dad with three children, two boys and a girl. I enjoy camping and being involved with all my kids school and sporting activities. I love writing, always have. I’m a huge Star Wars & Indiana Jones nerd. I enjoy going to the gym and keeping fit. As a writer, I’m writing the kinds of books that I wanted to read when I was growing up, with the added bonus of being able to share them with my kids and the rest of the world.

Tuesday, February 19

The Storm Runner & Mayan Mythology

   **Shout out to my 15yo son for creating the Modern Mythology posts!**

The Mayans had many gods. There were over one hundred and sixty-five. Many of them were nature-oriented, like the god of the sun, Kinih Ahous, or the god of maize, Yum Kaax. Most of these gods were mortal. They would help the Mayans with their jobs. 

The Mayans built enormous temples to these gods and kings. The temple to the gods was on a flat platform at the top of the pyramids. Some very famous pyramids are in Chichen Itza. They also studied astronomy here. There were two kinds of Mayan pyramids - one was for the people and priests, and one that was sacred (only the high priest could enter). There were stairways that led to the top of the pyramids. 

The Mayans feared death because only those who were given as sacrifices to the gods, or died at childbirth, were not sent to the underworld. Even the priests and kings were sent to the underworld! The underworld was said to be filled with demons, evil gods, and jaguars. Jaguars were the spirit animal of every king. A spirit animal was a soul of an animal that shared a body with a person. Everyone had a spirit animal, except the priest, who could have more than one. These spirit animals were called 'Way Ob.'

  • The Storm Runner
    • Zane Obispo spends every day exploring the sleeping volcano in his backyard. "The Beast," as he calls it, is the one place where he can escape other kids, who make fun of him because he has a limp and walks with a cane. After a twin-engine plane crashes into The Beast, a mysterious girl named Brooks shows up at Zane's doorstep, insisting that they meet at the volcano, where she will reveal a terrible secret. Zane agrees, mostly because beautiful girls like her don't usually talk to him. Brooks tells him that the volcano is actually a centuries-old prison for the Maya god of death, whose destiny is directly tied to Zane's. No way, Zane thinks. He's just a thirteen-year old nobody, and destiny or no destiny, he wants nothing to do with any of it, especially some god of death. But Brooks opens his eyes to the truth: magic, monsters, and gods are real, and Zane is at the center of an ancient prophecy that could mean the destruction of the world.Suddenly finding himself entangled in a web of dangerous secrets, Zane embarks on a quest that will take him far from home and test him to the very core. 

Make / Do
Define / Identify
  • Anthropomorphic
  • Cosmology
  • Deity
  • Maize
  • Mesoamerica
  • Palma
  • Popol Vuh
  • Quetzal 
  • Supernatural
  • Yucatán Peninsula
  • Zoomorphic
  • Itzam Ná
  • Huracán
  • K’inich Ajaw
  • Hun H’unahpu
  • Chak
  • K’awil
  • Kisim
  • Ix Chel
  • IxCacao
  • When and where did the Mayan civilization thrive? 
  • How were the Mayans similar to and different from other ancient civilizations?

Monday, February 18

Squash Bisque & Dilly Crackers

Last week, we got a yummy care package from my grandmother's house...full of the tastes of my childhood!  One of these blasts-from-the-past was her Dilly Crackers.  Fair warning, if you like salty tastes, these could be your undoing... 

We had just gotten a crop of winter squash when these arrived, so we whipped up some yummy squash bisque to go with them.  It's a quick and easy winter recipe that will warm you from the inside out...Bon Apetit!

Dilly Crackers
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • Tbsp dill weed
  • 1 pkg dry ranch dressing mix
  • 3 pkg (12 oz each) oyster crackers

Mix all ingredients together and spread out on a pan to dry.  Allow to dry at least an hour before storing.  Stores well for up to two weeks.

Squash Bisque

Mix pureed squash, vegetable stock, and seasonings in a large pot. 
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.  
Add heavy cream and cook five minutes (do not boil)

Some of our other favorite ways to warm up are minestrone soup and chicken tortilla soup.  What's your go-to recipe for warming up in the winter?

Friday, February 15

Flashback Four : The Titanic Mission

April 14, 1912

The wealthiest people of the world walked her decks.  The poorest emigrants of Europe walked her decks.  She was designed to be unsinkable, formidable, and the epitome of technology to come.  In only two and a half hours, however, she went from being afloat to beneath the waves...

Titanic left England and headed to France and Ireland before turning for New York.  Four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, she hit an iceberg just before midnight.  Her hull buckled and the watertight compartments broke...flooding.  Passengers began to evacuate and the crew radioed in vain for would be hours before the Carpathia received the signal, arrived, and saved about 700 survivors.

With over 2,200 people on board, and more than 1,500 dying, this was one of the deadliest peace-time disasters in modern history.  There were enough lifeboats aboard for 1,178 people, but some of them collapsed, others sank, and many were only half-filled with people.

In 1985, the wrecked Titanic was uncovered during a military mission in the Atlantic.  It remains on the seabed today.  The oldest living survivor died in 2009.  She had only been two months old when it sank.

  • The Titanic Mission
    • This time, Luke, Julia, David, and Isabel are headed to the deck of the doomed Titanic. Their mission? Capture a shot of the sinking ship, then come right back.  The only problem is, once they arrive aboard the ship, the four friends can’t agree on what to do next. Should they try to save the passengers? Or maybe bring back a priceless book before it sinks with the ship?  With real historical photographs to put young readers right in the action, plus back matter that separates fact from fiction, The Titanic Mission tells the story of the ship’s fateful last voyage like you’ve never seen it before.
  • I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic
Make / Do
Image result for titanicVocabulary
  • starboard
  • testimony
  • distress
  • reluctant
  • plummet
  • differential
  • brittle
  • smelt
  • turbine

  • If you survived the Titanic, how would that affect your outlook on life?
  • The gates to third class were locked.  Why did this happen?  Would it happen today?  Why or why not?
  • If you were designing the Titanic, what features would you change to make her a better ship?

Wednesday, February 13

Aru Shah & Indian Mythology

**Shout out to our 15yo son for putting together the Modern Mythology units!**

Aru Shah centers around the stories of the Pandava. These tales are written down mostly in the Mahabharata, which was a Sanskrit epic and one of the two major epics in India. (The other is the Ramayana.) 

The Pandavas were the sons of Pandu, the king of Hastinapur. For a strange reason, instead of taking multiple wives (as was the custom of the day), they all married the same woman. Her name was Draupadi, and she was the daughter of the king of Panchala. 

The Mahabharata mostly tells of the war with their cousin, the Kauravas. There are three main Hindu gods in what is called the Trimurti. There is Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. 

Brahma was the first god -- this is why he was known as the Svayambhu, or the self-born. The second god is Vishnu. He is known as the preserver, a protector god. He is usually shown with blue skin. 

The last god in the Trimurti is Shiva, the destroyer. Interestingly, the god of destruction is also the god of meditation and yoga. He is known as the supreme destroyer and Lord of the Devas. There are over 33 million Hindu gods!

  • Aru Shah books
    • Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur? One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again. But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
  • The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala & the Kingdom Beyond)
Make / Do
  • Vishnu
  • Indra
  • Yama
  • Pandava
  • Arjuna
  • Sahadeva
  • Yudhishthira
  • Bhima
  • Nakula
  • Why do you think the some of the gods have multiple arms?  What might this represent?
  • Since this religion is still around today, should it be considered a mythology?

Tuesday, February 12

Flashback Four : The Lincoln Project

November 19, 1863

The Flashback Four blends fascinating real history with an action-packed and hilarious adventure, four very different kids are picked by a mysterious billionaire to travel through time and photograph some of history's most important events. 

This time, the four friends are headed to 1863 to catch Abraham Lincoln delivering his famous Gettysburg Address.  They'll have to work together to ask the right questions, meet the right people, and capture the right moment. And most important—not get caught!

Virtual Field Trip

Here is the Wills House, on the town square, where Abraham Lincoln stayed before giving his Gettysburg Address.  It is just down the street from the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Stopping to walk around at the Gettysburg National Memorial, there is a wall here that's similar to the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. It lists the soldiers that died in battle, both Union and Confederate.

Let's take a drive through the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the final resting place for Union soldiers killed during the 3-day battle. This is where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. Nearly all Confederate soldiers were moved to their home states.


Make / Do
Connection  We Were There at the Battle of Gettysburg book unit


  • Conceive
  • Proposition
  • Engaged
  • Endure
  • Consecrate
  • Hallow
  • Detract
  • Devotion
  • Vain
  • Perish
  • Do you think the address is still relevant today?  Why or why not?
  • Where would you want to go if you could travel back in time to any date and place in history?  Research the event and write a paragraph explaining why you would visit there.

Monday, February 11

Modern-Day Manners

"Etiquette isn’t about primness, but about having a template for being thoughtful and kind.  The fundamental principles of manners never go out of style."  ~ Emily Post
"Say thank you,” “Sit up straight,” “Shake hands,” “Say please”…Most of us heard phrases like this as we grew up, because our parents were teaching us manners.

But in this increasingly informal world, why should we bother to teach manners?

  • Having good manners meet a social expectation – kids are expected to have good manners, and they and their parents earn more respect when they do. 
  • At the heart of good manners is a respect for oneself and others. Good manners convey a sense of respect for other people. When you say “thank you,” you’re taking the time to make the other person feel appreciated. Saying “please” respects a person’s right not to do what you’ve asked (it’s not so demanding with a “please” attached).
  • Good manners may play a role in your child's future by showing that a s/he listens and does what he is taught – these are good character traits that teachers, employers, and other authority figures appreciate.  From bosses to girlfriends, good manners can make or break an opportunity. 
  • The civility of the world depends upon it!  Good manners set a standard of behavior against which other behavior can be measured, which helps keep order and civility in society.
To this end, we have taken a timeless theme and updated it with manners for the digital age.  We developed Modern-Day Manners for our own children, and gave it a vintage theme, just for fun!  Each of the lessons is accompanied by a full-sized, color poster.  

Modern-Day Manners is self-paced, and the lessons can be completed in any order.  They are aimed at middle school children, but very easily tailored to elementary school, and would be appropriate in any life skills classroom as well.

Good manners and etiquette are essential in our daily lives, but learning them can be fun!  It is our hope that this course blesses many families.

Friday, February 8

We Were There at the Battle of Gettysburg

***Pick up your FREE Activity Pack***

Did you know that it was a three-day battle that turned the tide from a Confederacy victory of the Civil War into a Union one?

Fought from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, this was probably the most important battle of the American Civil War. The Confederates had just defeated the Union Army in Chancellorsville, VA when General Lee marched his army into Pennsylvania, invading the northern states. They met with General Meade’s men (Union) at a crossroads in Gettysburg, and fighting began!

During Lee’s march northward, he learned that the Union Army was on its way, and decided to assemble the Confederates in Gettysburg. His men scoured the town for supplies in preparation for battle, but found few. In the night, Union troops arrived and fortified areas around Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge.

The next day, Lee decided to attack the Union Army from two directions, splitting the Confederate Army. There was fierce fighting on both Cemetery and Seminary Ridge, and the day ended with extremely heavy losses. Over the first two days, 35,000 men had died, and the battle was not over yet.

In the early morning hours of July 3rd, after a long night of firefight, the Union Army regained its position. General Lee, confident from the previous day’s victories, sent approximately 15,000 of his Confederate troops in a march across open fields to attack the Union – this was Pickett’s Charge, and it did not end well for the Confederate soldiers.

After three days of battle, Lee marched his men back toward Virginia. More than 52,000 men (total) had lost their lives in Gettysburg, and it was a crushing defeat for the Confederacy. Lee offered to resign, but President Jefferson Davis insisted he remain a general. The battle, however, turned the tides of the Civil War….

Battle of Gettysburg
Make / Do
Connection  Flashback Four: The Lincoln Project (time travel unit)

Define / Identify
  • Cemetery Ridge
  • Seminary Ridge
  • Culp’s Hill
  • Little Round Top
  • Big Round top
  • Devil’s Den
  • Pickett’s Charge
  • Robert E. Lee
  • George Meade
  • George Pickett
  • James Longstreet
  • Jeb Stuart
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • How did the result of this battle contribute to the overall victory of the Union in the Civil War? 
  • How might the course of the war have been different if the Confederates had won this battle?
Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!

    Wednesday, February 6

    Building a Chicken Coop

    My kids absolutely adore chickens...they always have. Maybe it was because their uncle and papaw used to work chicken houses. Me, I despise the things. (I had a run in with one when I was young.) However, we decided that keeping chickens would be a wonderful home school hands-on activity, as well as provide us with fresh eggs.The first thing we did was decide what kind of chickens to get. We opted for baby birds bought from our local Tractor Supply store. Color didn’t really matter to us - I wanted the kids to be able to see the chicks grow up, and mature, and then lay the eggs...maybe eventually hatching some off of our own. Big birds are already set in their ways and temperament, and you can’t easily hold them. My kids are 10, 8, 4 and they love to hold baby birds.

    Of course, when you get chickens you have to build them a house. The size and type depends on many factors, some of which include: how much space you have, the amount of money you’re willing to spend, and how many birds you have or will have. We had a small holding pen for the chicks when they were brooding, but we knew it wouldn’t be a permanent fix. 

    You can buy pre-made coops, but I hate those. Oh they’re adorable, but for the amount of chickens we had (eight), $400 for a cute barn coop with a small fenced in place underneath didn’t make the most sense. They are made for six chickens max. We wanted something that wouldn’t be maxed out when we decided to hatch off chickens. So we decided to build our own. We live in the country, so space wasn’t really an issue for us, but money definitely is. I wanted something that wouldn’t break the bank, but would last for several years. 

    I’m not a builder, neither is my husband, but lucky for us my father-in-law is! He was more than happy to help us with this project. We couldn’t decide onone particular design from the chicken coop books I bought him, so we began combining our favorite aspects of each one to make our coop. 

     We knew we didn’t want the pre-made nesting boxes because they look too small. We agreed that you want something they will actually lay in and use, and not have to worry about it. We decided to make five nesting boxes, with three along one side and two on the other. We weren’t sure how many hens we had at this point, but we knew we could always make some more, and there’s always that one chicken who will lay on the ground even if you give her the most posh nest available. We made the boxes wider than the ones you buy and not quite as deep. They have a solid bottom, but we filled them with shavings.

    For the actual coop design, we were torn between a barn design and some of the more exotic ones, like a gazebo. The design is more for you than the chickens...they just want to stay warm and dry. I wanted something pretty to look at. We knew we would need it to open some way for us to get the eggs and clean it out. He wanted to have the roof open up on one side and reach in from the top to gather and clean. It was a cute idea, but in practice I couldn’t reach but one side of the coop and we wanted the kids to be able to gather and clean as well.

    Making the roof open from both sides was a hassle, so we had to have a good think on it. We were basically going with a barn design, with a few modifications to suit our needs and taste. I suggested having the whole back let down, basically acting as one big door. It allowed access to the whole interior and was easy to assemble. We decided to cover the roof with an old shower curtain to keep the rain out and make it look nice. We used craft spay adhesive and a black shower curtain. Easy peasy!

    Then I was informed the chicks had to have a way in. Yep, they need stairs or a ladder. He left me to figure that out while he and the kids started building the coop. Finally it was zero hour and they were in need of stairs. I was frustrated because “How to you build chickens a ladder??” So off the top of my head I said “Why don’t we just attach some of the limbs I pruned off the Bradford Pear the other day to a piece of wood?” and voila! We had stairs. And they are just too darn cute if you ask me...

    Finally, we had our coop. It took about four days to build with our modifications as we went. The next part was the grazing area, and that was easy because we were just fencing in an area of our yard. We used metal fence posts and chicken wire. We attached the wire with cable ties, and fenced in a 12 x 12 area (we'll expand as we add more chicks). 

    We decided to cover it with a net because we didn’t want hawks or any other predators getting our chickens. We put bricks and landscaping rocks around the bottom to keep the babies in and land predators out. Once we had all this figured out and completed, we added the chickens...who wasted no time making themselves at home. The coop still needs a paint job, but the chickens seem to love it!!!

    Today's guest post comes from Chastity at Chas Ray's Book Nerd Corner.  She is a self proclaimed book nerd, and loves sharing books with others!